Recently, I began observing a self-imposed rule on my viewing docket: designate one film genre per month. My previous post did have common denominator but I officially started last month by settling into the contemporary contributions to the pulpy world of science fiction. While it’s true that most of this genre’s concepts such as time-travelling, artificial intelligence (AI) and genetic modifications are explored to either progressive or regressive effect, some tend to hurdle what is expected (which is besides stirring one’s imagination). In concrete examples, the personal experience is the center of gravity in SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED which sidelined its sci-fi component by pulling its characters into an emotional orbit that revolves around disillusionment and dreams. Meanwhile, shivers ran down the robotic spine as an AI’s agency is tested and fought for control in EX MACHINA’s dangerous allegory about the future machinations of men who treat themselves as gods and saviors, only to be eliminated in the end. As for the hyped reopening of JURASSIC WORLD, it does invite nostalgia but the pure wonderment is extinct (am I the only one exasperated by the CGI combustion?). My unpopular opinion could be preceded by the name of its main attraction-turned-destruction, but leaving the iconic theme park behind has strengthened my belief that the unmatchable delight and beloved memories of the original film is definitely worth preserving.
SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED (2012)
With her works in Parks and Recreation and The To Do List, Aubrey Plaza is the unofficial ambassador of the modern-day skeptical yet pragmatic youth who (in this case) kindles the humble adventures of director Colin Trevorrow’s debut comedy. Darius (Plaza), her boss-writer Jeff (Jake Johnson) and a fellow intern pursue an odd classified ad for their magazine article, only to find themselves in an eye-opening expedition that evokes the feelings of the past and abandons the existing pretentions for a dogged trip to the future. SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED’s attention-grabbing premise is subversive of its overall payoff. Stowing its sci-fi element during the rest of the film for an astonishing finale, this indie comedy finds its charm on the earnestness of its characters who are caught up with the disillusionment on their present conditions. Darius, Jeff and the bizarre ad author Kenneth (Mark Duplass) are, in varying degrees, suffering from nostalgia who find ways to relive the past and resolve to carry on with their lives. The disenchantment Darius particularly experiences is recognizable that she is easily empathized as her conviction grows in finding something (or someone) she could believe into. Jeff may or may not end up publishing the piece about a man looking for company in his time-travelling mission but SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED is itself a satisfying human interest story, both candid and contemplative, with the right amount of incredulity, inquisitiveness and individuality that builds for a refreshing sci-fi cause.
EX MACHINA (2015)
Fashioning itself as a foreboding sci-fi parable (ex. Under the Skin), EX MACHINA is a gripping and though-provoking thriller that envisions the fight for control over machines, both by men and themselves by means of AI. First-time director Alex Garland creates an arresting atmosphere on the external and in-house shots that diffuses the film’s intellectual moodiness. As a rare minimalist (per the genre’s convention), the focus is heavier in establishing its ambitious ideas to the setting (the confined areas of technological invincibility/downfall with the brewing tension among its characters) than the computer-generated effects, which is more compelling to the astute viewer. The audience adapts in the film’s futuristic world through Caleb (Domnhall Gleeson), a young programmer premeditatedly chosen by the eccentric and capricious company CEO Nathan (Oscar Isaac) to perform the Turing test to his latest humanoid robot, Ava (Alicia Vikander). With the programming sourced from billions of accessible and hacked personal information, the questionable ethicality of Nathan’s research and development dawns in Caleb, which is further heightened by his burgeoning mutual understanding (and unsolicited warnings of) with Ava. Unraveling to its startling climax, EX MACHINA becomes more than the exploration of the authoritative relationship between man and machine. Ava is an ingenious metaphor for a female creation grasping her agency and utilizing it for survival, that turns out to be both humanizing and terrifying. It’s a threatening reality that Garland convincingly suggests, along particularly with Vikander on her sharp sensibilities as the robot in observation. Ava may have outmaneuvered her creator and savior but the real danger is weighed between man’s abusive and controlling genius and a machine’s unpredictable recognition of its potentials. EX MACHINA is the latest speculative fiction that proves to be more fascinating than it looks, and at the same time, is a subtle cautionary tale on the recipients of trust. Knowledge is power but betrayal, as Caleb and Nathan fatally learn, could render that power useless.
JURASSIC WORLD (2015)
The Jurassic Park franchise gets a new lease of life in the hands of Trevorrow (Safety Not Guaranteed!) on the passably entertaining yet thematically deficient fourth motion picture (with creator Steven Spielberg’s blessing). After the unmemorable second and third installments, JURASSIC WORLD, to its credit, is a welcome rebirth that relishes the glory of the first film with its new cast led by the always likable Chris Pratt. The extinct species’ return to the big screen is inevitable given the advancement on filmmaking’s technology and the latest Jurassic film follows the same principle by creating genetically-modified dinosaurs of the comparative degree. But what is bigger is not always better and while the visuals are a definite enhancement, JURASSIC WORLD doesn’t capture the genuine curiosity, wonderment and exhilaration of the series’ alpha. As Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) says in her businesslike tone, kids nowadays are not impressed by dinosaurs anymore. On the contrary, the film doesn’t impart a satisfying postscript apart from the fleeting adventurous thrills and comedic timings. Despite the cast’s representative roles and the establishment of corporate greed and responsibility, JURASSIC WORLD is hollow on character development and moral emphasis which is a criminal undoing of a monster movie (i.e. the metaphoric superiority of Garett Edward’s Godzilla over the human populace). Pratt earns a few moments in brokering the interesting bond between man and dinosaur but such relationship is only exploited for narrative functionality and not on the meaningful acknowledgement of respect in the laws of nature. Trevorrow sneaks in little pleasures but he tumbles in translating the more relevant themes in a bigger and more technical scale. JURASSIC WORLD, nevertheless, is still a pleasurable adventure blockbuster but this time, it’s better to compare it with its league of big-budgeted flicks than the unparalleled original.
Next Sci-fi attraction: Sam Rockwell and the marvelous rock that is MOON